the business of CAD
Issue #812 | April 1, 2014
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In This Issue
1. Graphisoft Readies ArchiCAD for the Enterprise
Travelogue Report: Tripping to Tokyo
2. Heard on Twitter and on the Blog
AutoCAD 2015 misspells spelling function name
Graphisoft Readies ArchiCAD for the Enterprise
Since ArchiCAD 12 about five years ago, Graphisoft has been quietly getting its ArchiCAD software ready for the enterprise. So quietly, that Graphisoft today is frustrated at the lack of attention it receives. And so it decided to make a splash last week by flying the international CAD media into Tokyo. Well, Graphisoft has plenty of attention in Japan and Germany -- which is why it held the press event in Tokyo -- but it lusts after the British and American markets that are dominated by Autodesk's Revit, which is why it invited us journalists from England and North America.
Graphisoft's admits its job is being made easier due to the the cultural condition in Japan. Here, smaller firms take their cue from the giants -- the reverse of most other countries. The giants are five architectural firms that do 80% of the work in Japan; four run their operations on ArchiCAD, just one employs Revit.
The BIMcloud Billows
The product launched last week is named BIMcloud; to understand it, however, we have to start with BIM Server -- as did Graphisoft ceo Viktor Varkonyi, who answered our questions, patiently, for three hours. BIM Server (not to be confused with BiMserver) serves ArchiCAD drawings to workstations in an office, and provides the usual services we have come to expect: central file storage, version management, collaboration. (See Figure 1.) Last year's ArchiCAD 2013 contains the necessary client-side component to work with BIM Server; nothing extra needed.
Figure 1: Graphisoft ceo Viktor Varkonyi explaining the technology behind BIMcloud and BIM Server to CAD journalists
But there is a twist unique enough that Graphisoft patented it: only model elements that change are transmitted between the ArchiCAD workstations and the BIM Server host. This means that updates are frequent and speedy; this means the central database is always up to date; this means drawings are always backed up automatically. Indeed, Graphisoft vp of marketing Akos Pfemeter boasted this incremental-store system is faster than pressing Ctrl+S (Cmd+S for Mac users of ArchiCAD). Roll-backs are part of the backup system.
The per-element update system works like this: A CAD operator locks a portion of a drawing, such as a floor element or layer or a 3D volume of several rooms. The changes made are saved regularly. When another operator wants to work on a locked area, he sends a text message to request unlocking. Roles can be assigned to very fine levels of permission.
So, all BIMcloud does is extends all this to multiple offices. Each office would have one BIM Server, all of which are connected to one BIMcloud system. Being cloud, it can run securely on an in-house server or if necessary on a commercial cloud provider, such as Amazon. Graphisoft programmers designed it so that CAD managers can add more compute and storage resources nearly dynamically. To move to a stronger server takes two minutes: (a) pause the sync, (b) switch to new server, (c) allow synching to resume.
It also has a text/video messaging system so that users can communicate between offices. The real-time demo we saw connected offices in Tokyo with Taiwan (3,000km away) and Budapest (9,000km away). Messages are tied to elements.
(For those wondering, Teamwork is the name of Graphisoft's older client-side model sharing technology that did not involve a central file server. Also, Graphisoft is not a cloud host; they provide a shrinkwrap product.)
Naturally, comparisons were made with the failings of Revit, whose users must update the entire database file, instead of just a small portion. The difference is significant, as BIM files can reach two gigabytes. To overcome the inherent limitation, Autodesk customers employ Riverbed's Steelhead WAN optimization hardware for data compression, one needed in each office, which adds to the cost of multi-office deployments. Otherwise, the central Revit database is not updated until after hours, when it is not being used. Tellingly, third-party developers even sell software that cures corruption that occurs in Revit databases.
The Graphisoft system eliminates all these "solutions," because it just sends kilobytes of data with each update. Graphisoft Asia vp Bence Kovacs emphasized thatthe system is so efficient that updates can be sent from the field using a cell phone or tablet. For portable Android and iOS devices, Graphisoft offers BIMx free for viewing ArchiCAD models in 2D and 3D. The more advanced BIMx Docs ($5 - $50) links directly into ArchiCAD models back in the office. See http://www.graphisoft.com/bimx/
This set of technology is meant for companies with 30-40 users or more, as smaller firms don't need this, "where even the word 'server' is scarey. For 100-person setup, it costs $20,000.
As a first time visitor to Tokyo, I really appreciated that Graphisoft took us on several site visits during the two-day event. For one visit, we trooped hardhat-clad through the nearly-finished 30-story twin skyscrapers of Iidabashi Station, walking the final five flights of steps to the roof, to view much of Tokyo from the helicopter pad. BIM in the form of ArchiCAD was used for the design, collision checking, and construction sequencing. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2: How data flows between contractors of the Iidabashi Station project
Later, we were bussed to Tokyo's most expensive shopping street, which by no-coincidence houses its most dramatic architecture, as stores like Hugo Boss, Coach, Prada, and Lexus try to impress well-heeled customers by looking very different. (See Figure 3.)
Figure 3: CAD journalists examine the bubbly exterior of the Prada store in Tokyo
The next day, we visited one of the architectural design giants, Nikken Sekkei. (See Figure 4.) How giant? Well, the firm has its own skyscraper in Tokyo, and employs 2,500 of which 1,200 are registered architects. The firm takes on 200 projects a year, and has another nine offices across Asia. This firm is a cheerleader for ArchiCAD, so much so that they assigned eight employees to provide practical advice to Graphisoft on how to write BIMcloud. This was to make sure it would work for their purposes -- thousands of architects working in their own offices as well in dozens of clients' offices.
ArchiCAD became central to Nikken for these reasons:
They have seven BIM servers, with an average project size of 100MB to 2GB. One of Nikken's current projects is a new R&D center for Sony. The high-rise has balconies made of ceramics, which are wetted. This lowers the temperature of the building by 10C (22F), greatly reducing energy consumption from air conditioning. See http://www.nikken.co.jp.
Figure 4: CAD editors interview staff from Nikken Sekkei architects (photo courtesy of Nikken)
(Note that OpenBIM is a standard with few adherents other than Nemetschek member companies. See https://www.graphisoft.com/archicad/open_bim.)
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Graphisoft Readies ArchiCAD for the Enterprise, continues...
The structure of Nemetschek and its companies is a continual puzzle to outsiders. But Mr Varkonyi clarified things by explaining Nemetschek is only a financial holding company. All member companies operate independently, and even can compete with each other, as do Graphisoft and Vectorworks in Japan. The ten member companies are organized into four business units -- design, build, manage, multimedia -- and their only responsibility is to meet profit targets.
This independence, however, means a lack of synergy. It is not obvious to outsiders that Graphisoft has access to structural steel analysis (Scia) or real estate management (Crem). Last November, however, the executive board was shuffled, and so the ceos of Graphisoft and Vectorworks now advise Nemetschek directly.
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
By the frequent references to Revit, we media could sense Graphisoft's frustration with what they clearly saw as an inferior competitor that often got wins through government edict or seeding of free software -- and not through superior performance. "For Graphisoft, model control is of top importance," emphasized Mr Varkonyi, "For Revit users, they don't understand what is happening on the project, due to its complex structure."
While ArchiCAD has low visibility in the Americas, it is well-known in Europe and parts of Aisa. But then this is typical for a European CAD firms: an inability to market themselves to Americans. (Dassault is an exception because they employed IBM to handle marketing and sales.) Graphisoft may be frustrated that it isn't a worldwide success, but it should be content with its regional success. Any case, its five-year plan to expand ArchiCAD from desktop-only to mobile and enterprise is an accomplishment of which it can be proud.
[Disclosure: Graphisoft paid for my business-class airfare, most of my hotel accommodation, many meals, and some ground transportation.]
Figure 6: Standing on a helicopter pad 500 feet up, this group of CAD journalists admires the vast Tokyo skyline
And One More Thing...
Siemens PLM Software (through its LMS division) is involving itself in the Modelica Association for open-standard modeling libraries. R&D is directed at a Modelica programming language and Functional Mock-up Interface (FMI) specs. PDF with more info at http://www.lmsintl.com/_resources/20140307155012268463.pdf.
Heard on Twitter and On the Blog
Owen Wengerd (@owenwengerd): Most ironic misspelled function name (from AutoCAD 2015): AcEdInplaceTextEditor::invokeSpellerDictinaryDialog(void)
Owen Wengerd: AutoCAD 2015 API is not backward compatible. All ARX and .NET apps must be updated for 2015. DWG file format is unchanged from 2013.
Owen Wengerd: AutoCAD 2015 UI redesign appears very similar to the universally hated (and since scrapped) UI redesign in Microsoft's Visual Studio 2012.
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upFront.eZine: Still love Occulus, now that they sold out to Facebook? You can be a tech darling, or you can be filthy rich.
Randall S. Newton (@RSNatWork): Facebook wants a piece of the future. Buy or build.
upFront.eZine: Facebook needs a platform they can control. Right now they depend on riding with Google, Apple, & Microsoft but as the passenger.
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upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine): Matterport and their $4500 3D scanning camera just might make Geomagic no longer matter -> http://matterport.com/technology/
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Alex Bausk (@bauskas): The complete list of sources in Russian about IFC implementation: 1) My notebook. 2) Ummm...
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upFront.eZine: Matt Lombard giving away the barn with his What's New series in Solid Edge ST7, which won't be announced 'til June -> http://community.plm.automation.siemens.com/t5/Solid-Edge-Community-Blog/bg-p/solid-edge-news
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Randall S. Newton: I use Win 8 desktop, Chromebook, iPad, and Android phone. Thinking I need to consolidate my OS multiple personality disorder.
On the Blog
Here are items that appeared on the WorldCAD Access blog recently at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com:
"The legislation says -- and it's in most of the five statutory instruments published yesterday -- is that nothing in a contract that purports to restrict this act is enforceable."
- Richard Mollet, Publishers Association
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